by Shifra V. Hovey
this piece was originally published on Shifra’s blog, MyJewishness.com
“Good morning. Have a seat in the waiting room and someone will be right with you,” I heard a voice slowly approaching. The modern, artsy decor gave way to a cathedral ceiling with skylights and elegant, modern tile work. But, still, there was something undeniably rustic about the place that affirmed an ancient charm. Our tour guide explained that there was an education center and conference rooms on the premises in addition to the reason most people visit. The rooms were meticulous, bright, and neatly decorated with religious art quilts hanging from the walls. I contemplated the people who had quilted them. Jews quilt? I thought that was a Christian thing?
Oh, a Christian thing, I chuckled to myself remembering why I was here today and acknowledged the anxiety swelling in my stomach. Today was the day that I would be immersing in the mikveh. I was anxious, and yet, I wanted to savor every moment of this special day. Today was the day that I would immerse in a mikveh for the first time in my life. Today, I would relinquish the past and start anew, rekindling my birth-religion of Judaism and my birth-given Hebrew name, Shifra.
In the preparation room I meditated on my kavanah, intention, and prepared myself for immersion. The bathroom and shower were fully stocked with everything I needed: soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, nail clippers, nail file, tissues, etc. I would immerse naked, and every inch of my body needed to be ritually clean and presentable before G-d.
When I was prepared, Tim (my husband) and I walked through the doorway toward the mikveh and parted ways. He walked straight to the overhead bench where he could sit and witness my immersion. I stepped down one step of seven that descended circularly around the inside of the mikveh. My toes were underwater. I paused for a moment noticing every detail of the tiled stairs and wall that wrapped around the mikveh. I took my second step down, and then stepped down a third. On the fourth step, I paused again for a moment. The water was pooling around my knees, but I felt no sensation of warmth or cold. I remembered being told the water was heated to exact body temperature, so it wouldn’t feel different than the temperature of my body—and it didn’t.
At the foot of the stairs was a very large spigot. I was anxious to get there and remembered that when I approached it, I needed to open it a half of a turn to let the outdoor, natural rainwater flow into the mikveh. Once the water from outside kissed the water in the mikveh it would be kosher for immersion.
I took my last three steps much more quickly in anticipation of the rainwater. I knew it would be cold and wanted to feel it against my body. I turned the spigot and the freezing water gushed in forcefully splashing my nakedness. I felt alive and present. Stepping to the side, I watched as the rainwater kissed the water already in the mikveh and then closed the spigot.
I moved to the center of the mikveh ready for my ritual. As I stood with the water just below my shoulders, I whispered, “May this immersion help me move from what has been and may my heart be open to what is yet to come. Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam asher kidshanu bi-t’vilah b’mayyim hayyim. Blessed are you, G-d, Majestic Spirit of the Universe who makes us holy by embracing us in living waters.”
I lowered my head below the water’s surface being sure that not even a single hair on my head was left above the water. Slowly, my face emerged and I spent a moment in deep prayer as I spoke intimately with G-d.
My body softened and I immersed again.
Upon emerging the second time, I spoke to G-d in English and found myself laughing aloud. I was so happy and excited; I couldn’t control my emotion.
I prayed one last time in Hebrew and immersed my third and final time, “Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha’olam shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu la’zman hazeh. Blessed are You, Eternal our G-d, for giving me life, sustaining me, and through one miracle after another, bringing me to this moment.” I emerged this final time with tears in my eyes.
December 31, 2013, wasn’t just the start of a new year and new religion for me. It was the end of a very long spiritual journey that had led me in a complete circle. As I immersed in the living waters, I was met with a full gamut of emotions. My journey was complete and G-d was right there in the center of it all embracing me in His loving arms. Then I heard Him whisper, “Welcome home, Shifra, my dear prodigal daughter. Welcome home.”
Shifra V Hovey is the author of Handfasting: A Pagan Guide to Commitment Rituals and was an acquisitions editor, ghostwriter, and copyeditor for the anthology Out of the Broom Closet. In addition, she was a featured contributor in The Afterlife Survey and has written and copyedited both fiction and nonfiction spiritual writings. Shifra holds a BS in Hospitality Management from Johnson & Wales University and a Certificate in Copyediting from Emerson College. In addition, she holds both a DMin from the University of Metaphysics and a PhD from the American Institute of Holistic Theology. Shifra lives a Jewish life on the southeast coast of Massachusetts, and you can follow her blog at MyJewishness.com.